An international team of scientists has identified a gene involved in some cases of early menopause, also known as premature ovarian failure. They found that alterations in the FOXL2 gene are responsible for a rare genetic condition, known as BPES type I, which results in drooping eyelids and incomplete ovary development. The teams, led by Giuseppe Pilia of the University of Cagliari in Italy, published their findings in the latest issue of the journal Nature Genetics.
The FOXL2 gene appears to be involved in the development of both the eyelids and the egg follicles in the growing fetus. 'This is the first human gene to be identified that may play an important role in the maintenance of ovarian follicles' said Andrew Zinn, in a commentary that accompanied the original article. He said that while the discovery would probably only account for 'a small fraction' of the cases of premature menopause, it may shed light on the causes of more common forms of the condition.
Co-author Dr David Schlessinger, of the Laboratory of Genetics in Baltimore, thinks that the findings are a 'prime example' of genetic forces affecting ageing that begin exerting their effects in utero. Eggs are formed in the ovaries in the developing fetus, the vast majority of which are destroyed naturally before birth. But most women are born with enough eggs to sustain fertility for several decades. Further research would concentrate on how alterations in FOXL2 cause women to produce fewer eggs, said Dr Schlessinger.
Sources and References
A genetic explanation for premature ovarian failure?
Genetic signpost to early infertility